Rainouts happen. They happen all the time. We play an outdoor sport in all kinds of places. Weather that would be considered a wee sprinkle in Scotland can shut down play in Indiana for days. Winds some would call a zephyr in other parts of the world can stir up a sandstorm in the Coachella Valley faster than you can say Frank Sinatra. But, you play on. And in a major, you play on until you’ve completed 72 holes under as close to Rules-of-Golf conditions as humanly possible.
The 2016 U.S. Senior Open is a prime example. Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, was a rain-soaked mess for much of that second week of August. Still, the USGA insisted on finishing 72 holes and doing so without instituting a lift-clean-and-place local rule. At the time, John Bodenhamer, the USGA director of rules and competitions, said, “We have a long history of our championships being contested over 72 holes and of playing the ball as it lies in accordance with the Rules of Golf. We don’t plan to change that now.”
Gene Sauers wasn’t crowned the winner of that Senior Open until Monday, which put the USGA and their television partner, Fox Sports, in a precarious position because the U.S. Amateur started that same day. Still, in a major, you do what it takes to finish.
Which brings us to the Evian Championship, the LPGA’s last major of the calendar contested on the shores of Lake Geneva in one of the most beautiful parts of the world – a place that also happens to be one of the rainiest spots in Europe in mid-September. On Thursday, a deluge caused play to be suspended at 10:04 a.m. with Jessica Korda and So Yeon Ryu tied for the lead at 2-under par. The other early story was the bad day being had by reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion Sung Hyun Park, who was 6 over after only a handful of holes.
Then, something remarkable happened: the LPGA and Ladies European Tour, along with the sponsors, chose to cancel the first round entirely and shorten the tournament to 54 holes. It’s the second time in five years this major has been truncated, with torrential rains prompting a similar call in 2013.
“We made the decision to start tomorrow fresh,” Mike Whan said in the media center on site in France. “We’re going to scrap today’s round. … We’re going to play Friday, Saturday with a target to finish Sunday at 54 holes. We’re going to commit to a 54-hole finish, which some people will definitely not like and I’ll be the one taking the brunt of that.”
He’s was right about that last part. Whan has seldom blundered in his tenure as commissioner. If anything, he’s worked far more miracles than he’s made mistakes. But this was a whiff. Yes, the golf course was wet (although by 4 p.m. in France, the sun was shining and there was very little wind).
Super sunny and nice outside 🙄 pic.twitter.com/z8OxxrkqA4
— Brittany Lincicome (@Brittany1golf) September 14, 2017
But you don’t wipe out a first round and start over. Suspend play, resume when you can, and get in as many holes as possible before you make any decisions about shortening the event. By throwing in the towel on Thursday, Whan admitted that travel schedules, weather forecasts and other things going on in France took precedence over the competition, a competition that could determine the Rolex Annika Major Championship winner, the Player of the Year, the No. 1 player in the world rankings – and could have a future impact on a player’s Hall of Fame eligibility.
In France, where the topography of the golf course and the unpredictability of the weather played in a role in the decision, this might have looked like the best bad option available. But in America, and probably in parts of Asia, it looks like the Evian Championship became the ShopRite Classic, a fine tournament on a good course but nowhere close to a major.
“I think it’s a huge mess,” Brittany Lincicome, a two-time major champion, told me via text from France.
That opinion is shared by many. Jerry Foltz, who was on the ground for Golf Channel when play was called, told me, “I know there are way more factors that go into this decision than I’m privy to and I have to respect that. However, I’ve never seen a tournament shortened to 54 holes on a Thursday. Tournaments are usually shortened, and should be, when there are no other alternatives. That was not the case today from what I can see.”
“It was crazy for a while and I think a lot of questionable decisions were made throughout the day,” Jane Park, another Evian competitor, told me via phone. “My group was on the second hole when play was initially suspended and it was dangerous out there. Limbs were blowing down. It was bad. So, we were brought in. Then we were told by LET officials that we were going back out numerous times before it stopped raining. We knew that the course wasn’t ready. Tempers were getting out of hand. Finally, Mike Whan stepped in and calmed things down by calling it for the day. But I don’t know when they made the decision to wipe the entire round. The sad part is, by 5:00, we probably could have been out there again. We could have at least gotten an hour of play in today (from) what I can see.”
When Park, a past U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, was asked if the USGA would have done anything like this, she didn’t hesitate. “Oh, no way,” she said.
The decision today cheapens more than this Evian Championship: it cheapens all the awards that spring from it. And, it’s a blow to women’s golf. When average golf fans, the people who don’t regularly follow the LPGA but should, flip over to Golf Channel and realize that the first round was scrubbed and the event has been shortened to 54 holes, how much value do they place on Evian relative to other major championships?
“We feel like this was the right decision to have the cleanest, fairest competitive round,” Whan said, “(one) that’s still going to finish on a Sunday with somebody jumping out of an airplane with a flag behind them.”
That’s something, but it most definitely is not a major.
SPECIAL PREVIEW EDITION: Evian Championship